The Renaissance specifically refers to the revival of humanistic culture at the tail end of the Middle Ages, centering on the city states of northern Italy and later spreading throughout Europe. This cultural event has given its name to this period of history. When exactly that period begins and ends is a matter of debate. I have used the term Renaissance for the years 1453 until 1648. This is a very broad time period for this label: 1453 is often used as the last year of the Middle Ages (with the end of the Hundred Years War and the Byzantine Empire), but most Historians place the end of the Renaissance long before 1648. However, 1648 is the year in which the appalling Thirty Years War ended. The Thirty Years War was the last of the religious wars which tore Europe to shreds. By the end of the Thirty Years War, the original religious rational for the war had been replaced with a far more pragmatic, even cynical, power politics motive. France, a nominally Catholic country, jumped into the war to save the Protestant side from defeat. This signaled a change in politics as well as culture. The decline in the status of the Church and the resulting reformation had lost their power to define the history of Europe after 1648. In between the crucial years of 1453 and 1648, however, religion would be the prime force behind politics. Before, Europe did not have much need for religious war, except with Muslims in Spain and the Holy Land. There was some fighting during the Investiture contest and other conflicts between the various Popes and Anti-Popes (the latter title decided on by who won the contest) of the several schisms in the Church, but for the most part the states and statelets of Europe fought merely for power. With the reformation, however, and the revolts of various Protestant and Puritan factions, Europe's constant war took on a terrifying edge. Motivated by the certainties of religion, Europeans descended into a nightmare of plunder, rape, murder and sadism. It was at this time (not the Middle Ages as is commonly thought) that torture and mass execution became a high art in Europe. The states of Europe were emerging from feudalism towards absolute monarchy, but though they had developed the ability to raise huge new gunpowder-equipped armies, they were unable to feed or pay these armies with any regularity. These troops were often paid in plunder, sometimes from their own territory. In addition to religious conflict and the rise of the state, one more ingredient gave this age its incredibly violent nature: alcohol. For the first time in European history, enough alcohol could be produced to fulfill demand. The armies of Europe (which to modern commanders would seem little better than an armed mob) were rarely paid or even fed by their kings, but with the power to plunder and rape everything and everyone in their path that mattered little. On the other hand, without their grog ration, mutiny was immediate. The armies that ravaged Europe during the Renaissance were not only rapacious and sadistic but more often than not dead drunk. Still, the Renaissance was also a time of cultural advancement and exploration. Europeans sailed to the four corners of the Earth and claimed vast territories (rarely with the consent of the locals). The paradox of Europe, its violence and culture, its beauty and depravity, was to spread across the world. To use this page, click on underlined text to access information on various maps of The Renaissance.